For Christmas I received a $25 gift card for Barnes and Noble from the Board of Directors at the non-profit I work with. The card had been waiting patiently in my desk to be used when the right book was presented. I have lots of books I’m half way through reading, so I thought it appropriate to not run out with the gift card in haste, but instead wait until it had a purpose. Two weeks ago I went to Barnes and Noble to buy books for the youth I work with. Entering the store, they conveniently display bargain books with the prettiest covers enticing customers with immediacy. I was enticed. I hadn’t even entered the main store when a book titled “Hygge” had me stalling in the lobby.
Hygge is a word I had been seeing floating round the web, included in article titles that might say something like “5 Ways to Bring Hygge Into Your Life” or “How To Be The Most Hygge Ever.” It was starting to feel like the word epic, but instead of people getting hyped about the most awesome of things, they were getting hyped about the most cozy of things. Generally, the more hype something is, the less interested I am, but I picked up the trendy looking book nonetheless and was sold, or bought.
So last week, or whenever it was, I returned to the store with my personal gift card and purchased 224 pages of hygge hype. Its bargain price (perhaps indicating that the trend came and went in a flurry) means I still have $15 remaining on my gift card, so there could be a whole other blog to come on the next book purchase.
Anyway. Hygge is a Danish word that, from my understanding, is used to refer to moments and feelings of togetherness, comfort, things that please the senses, simple joys, and the absence of time constraints. You can youtube how to pronounce it, that’s what I did but am still unsure. Marie Tourell Soderberg, the author, ends the book with a hygge dictionary that shows all the ways it is partnered with with other words. For example, I’m all about tehygge which is hygge-ing with tea; Cam is all about hyggefiskeri which is going fishing to have a hyggelig time. Soderberg then invited the reader to make their own hygge compounds. With that, I’ll say the book has a very hyggevibe in that its pages are neatly formatted with Instagram style photos and small bite-size text. It’s a good job it was a bargain offer, otherwise it may have been a hyggeripoff due to the minimal literary content. Fortunately, I was content with the content.
The things that pleased and aroused me are as follows:
1. The concept of hygge parallels with the whole concept of this blog – to adorn life’s ordinary moments. Danish folk seem to be all about enjoying, and recognizing – which is why they have a word for it – the loveliness in a cup of tea by the fire, the delight in a long chatty dinner with friends, the comfort in family and cultural traditions. That there is a whole nation of people who have given language to a state of being and way of life that I seek to honor, is totally splendid.
2. Unexpected guests. Soderberg and the many ordinary Danes she interviews mention the little things they do to invite hygge when they have unexpected guests. I don’t know the last time I had an unexpected guest. Maybe in my teenage years living in England when a friend showed up to see if I was home, because neither of us had credit on our phones – if that counts. If it does count, I don’t know that we had a particularly hyggelig time with pancakes and meaningful conversation, but there was likely an air of comfort, ease, togetherness, and perhaps ganja.
Cam and I have been especially community minded since wwoofing. We stayed at a farm for three weeks on Vancouver Island with hosts who made a point of having communal lunch and dinners. This was a hyggelig time for sure. It has all the staples mentioned in the book I read, which is my one and only source for defining hygge. Lunch was on a bit of a time crunch but we were so hungry from working in the field that when it was time to eat our minds and mouths were so fixated on the fantastic array of food items we were less concerned with time and more involved in the experience of feasting. Dinners were much slower, more casual, and full of vibrant conversation. Apparently politics are not hyggelig, but we often got political at Ironwood farm.
Since moving to Virginia and cohabiting with my parents, we have revived the communal dining tradition. Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners bring us together frequently but don’t always have the hyggevibe. I think as the traditions build though, the hygge will build – if that’s how it works, I don’t know.
What I want to build are the chances of getting an unexpected guest at the door. Why are we not doing this? It’s even frowned upon by some folks in the US. Arrangements need to be made, heads up need to be given, appearances need to be kept up. Bollocks to all that. I want unexpected guests I can make tea for and play cards with. Those are my #goals.
3. The more I read about hygge the more it seemed to me that the feelings of joy and presence attained when those dear old Danes are having a hygge time is due to the absence of time constraints. To really enjoy the moment, you need to be in the moment, and not worried about the clock. This is hard for me. I’m not an especially anxious person, fretting about the future. Nor do I feel depressed, dwelling on the past. One of my (many) struggles is the incessant imagining, planning, analyzing, and problem solving that my brain is embroiled in. Another struggle I have is not clock watching. I have a hard time being immersed in the moment, no matter how lovely it is, because I know it’s going to end. Kind of bleak really. I suppose it is somewhat anxiety related, but without the fear or physical symptoms I hear often come with it.
Hygge is about going with the flow, I’ve surmised. I’ve always thought of myself as that kind of a person but as work becomes more of a responsibility, one that I care about and am invested in, it’s not always easy to let time pass on by without that nagging voice in the back of my head telling me I should be “doing” more. So the book was a good reminder to keep balance in mind as I move forward in this world. I can relish in the present, delight in life’s little comforts, and do the things on the ever refreshing to-do list. I can have my cake and eat it too – but the cake will be much more hyggelig if I have it with family, friends, or even unexpected guests!
Sodeberg included in her book special hygge traditions and activities of her own, and of other Danes. Here are some of mine:
- Traveling. Throwing agendas and to-do lists out the window and just rolling around like the tumble weed I saw driving to New Mexico on my very first road trip
- Tea and cards with family. Making the same old jokes and drinking the same old tea.
- Meals with Cam. When we lived together in Denver we would delight in the days we were able to eat three meals at the table together. These are times to talk about every little and big thing, and avoid doing the dishes for as long as possible
- Baking. My grandmother taught me to bake in England. We used a balance scale with what I think were brass weights, and she taught me all her tricks of the trade. I don’t remember any of these tricks, and am learning my own as baking becomes more of a hobby, but I do remember that classy old scale.
As is done in the book, I’ll share a hyggebaking recipe with you.
2 cups of flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
4 tbsp cold butter
¼ cup whipping cream
¼ cup milk
Jam – strawberry is traditional, blackcurrent is a nice alternative, but whatever strikes your fancy
Whipped cream – ideally, the kind you whip by hand, not the kind in a can
In a large bowl mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
Add the butter by slicing it or cutting it into a few chunks and dropping it into the bowl.
Rub the butter in using your fingertips, until it resembles bread crumbs.
Mix the cream, milk, and egg in a separate container, then add to bowl.
Gently incorporate until it forms a dough.
Place the dough on a floured surface and roll out to ½ inch thick.
Cut out circles using a cutter or random glass about 3 inches wide.
With the last scrap of dough, too small to be rolled and cut, form the disc shape in your hands instead – this scone is always my favorite because it’s the unique one of the bunch.
Bake for 15 minutes at 400°
While the scones are baking, pour the remainder of the whipping cream carton into a bowl and mix with an electric whisker (or whatever device you use for that sort of thing)
Scones are best served warm with a cup of tea.
There is debate around how to build the scone. I cut mine in half and on each side I put jam, and then cream on top. Lovely jubbly.